You might expect a behind-the-scenes, tell-all book about the inner workings of an American hostel to have a few jaw-droppers. Crazy guests, sex, and, perhaps if you watch too many horror movies, torture. Well, you won't find any of that in Vikki Matsis' new book, Inside An American Hostel. But Matsis, the manager of Charleston's NotSo Hostel, is revealing something some believe to be even more shocking: her numbers.
That's right. You'll find occupancy rates, profit and loss statements, revenue calculations, and pretty much everything else you'd need to start or manage your own hostel inside the book. It might not sound that controversial to the outside world, but in the hostel industry, Matsis' book is breaking new ground.
It all started six years ago when, fresh out of college, with not a single business credit on her College of Charleston transcript, Matsis found herself waving goodbye to NotSo's former manager with nothing more than the keys and a sheet of hand-written phone numbers in her hand. Looking to supplement her two weeks of job training with some business insight and hard facts, Matsis searched for resources only to find there weren't any.
"When I started to run the hostel, there was just no book out there at all," Matsis says. "The hosteling industry is very secretive in some ways about their numbers. It's very competitive."
Despite her lack of resources, Matsis plowed ahead, figuring out the business side of the hostel as she went. She oversaw renovations and remodels, opened the annex location on Cannon Street in 2010, and devised new systems and policies to make the hostel a success. Many of these improvements are ones she observed on her own travels.
In fact, you might say Matsis' life has been one long travel log. Moving around a lot growing up, she still doesn't have a solid answer when you ask her where she's from, which might be what makes her perfect for her job. She's been hooked on hosteling since her older brother took her backpacking through Europe in college and she continues to travel every year.
The lockers in each room, the popular bagel breakfast, and the small guidebook of local recommendations written by herself and her staff are all ideas she brought back from her travels. Although she's the one crunching the numbers at the end of the day, most of these added touches are to make the travelers feel more comfortable, not to affect her bottom line, she says.
"My belief is that if there's a good product, people will continue to come," Matsis said. "I don't need to overcharge just to make more money. That's a hard thing to explain, especially at World Hostel Conferences where there's this debate about raising prices on the weekend and raising prices for events. I don't want to do that, that's not my thing. Yeah we could make more money, but at what cost?"
For someone who's written a book on running a business, Matsis is still surprisingly not driven by numbers. The experience of traveling, meeting new people, and having new adventures is what motivates her. Even writing the book was in the hopes that more people will open hostels in the U.S., she says. Though she never planned to make running a hostel her career, it's now become not only her job, but also a way of life.
Inside An American Hostel: A guidebook for managers and aspiring owners is available at Blue Bicycle Books, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.com. A signing is scheduled for Wed. Aug. 15, 5-7 p.m. at Blue Bicycle Books (420 King St.)